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Time Banks, Contact Zones, Safe Houses, and the Honor Code

Time Banks, Contact Zones, Safe Houses, and the Honor Code

For the 6-week project Hannah Symonds and Grace Newman-Lapinski plan to do two different topics under the umbrella of the Bryn Mawr Honor Code. Hannah will explore the idea of contact zones and safe houses, and the ways in which the Honor Code creates each within the Bryn Mawr community. Grace will research time banks, their history at other colleges and their history at Bryn Mawr and the possibility for one currently, all under the overarching idea of maintaining and following the Honor Code. Following will be general outlines of each woman’s research plans and a general history of each idea.

Hannah will examine “contact zones” and “safe houses” in Bryn Mawr College’s community through the lens of the honor code. Mary Louise Pratt describes contact zones as “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power” (34). However, contact zones also involve “joys” such as “exhilarating moments of wonder and revelation, mutual understanding, and new wisdom” (39). Thus, the contact zone can be a place of suffering and discord, as well as of learning, dialogue, and trust-building. Pratt acknowledges that interactions in the contact zone are never easy; therefore, it is important that groups also have “safe houses,” which Pratt defines as “social and intellectual spaces where groups can constitute themselves as horizontal, homogeneous, sovereign communities” (40). These two places of interaction intersect in many ways with Bryn Mawr’s Honor Code, which states:

“We, the members of the Undergraduate College of Bryn Mawr, have come together in this community in order to create an environment in which each member is able to realize their full potential — a potential which is realized through intellectual and social growth. Such an environment is possible in a community that values respect and concern for individuals  and with this respect and concern, a commitment to communication. We have founded our community on the honor and integrity of its members. We trust that each student will be guided by the values of this community. Such trust is essential to maintaining the reciprocity on which our community is based.”

Such a claim would seem to be intended to create a safe house, as it emphasizes community and shared values. However, when one takes into account the fact that every member of this community is an individual who arrives with different values and different experiences, and that many cultural groups are represented on campus, there is great potential for the creation of contact zones within that community. In keeping with the values described in the honor code, both contact zones and safe houses are desirable components of this community. This project will examine in what ways the honor code attempts to contribute to the development of each, in what ways it succeeds, and in what ways it could do better. Hannah will interview a variety of people from the Bryn Mawr community, including at least one member of the Honor Board, one Community Diversity Assistant, perhaps a faculty member from the Pensby Center, and other students. She may also look into the college archives to learn how the honor code has changed over time and what form contact zones and safe houses have taken at different times in the college’s history.

Grace will be doing her research on time banks. Time banks are a way for people to interact in the economy by using their skills to earn credits that can be used to ‘purchase’ other services (or goods). In some time banks an hour of time spent doing labor is worth the same no matter what type of labor was performed. In other time banks the value of the time spent doing the labor differs depending on what type of labor is done. An example of a time bank is Hour Exchange Portland which “is a nonprofit time bank in which everyone’s labor is valued the same” (Cameron, Healy, and Gibson-Graham 106). In Hour Exchange Portland people can either use the credits they earn for similar types of labor or as credit at a nonprofit health care center. Time banks give people who have skills they may not be able to use to earn conventional currency the chance to earn credits that will allow them to purchase services they wouldn’t elsewise be able to afford.

Time banks can be used by anyone and everyone. Time banks are often very useful for those who are unable to earn enough money to afford such services elsewise, such those with a low-income, the disabled, the elderly, and college students. For this particular project, Grace will be focusing on the practicality and history of time banks on college campuses.

Grace will conduct research on the general history of time banks, the history of time banks on college campuses, and in particular the history of and potential for a time bank at Bryn Mawr College (BMC). As posted on the BMC website in 2011, BMC once held a pilot for a time bank. The faculty advisor for the project was Jessica Hollinger Vinson, whom Grace has emailed requesting an interview about the pilot and about why a time bank is not still in use today. Grace is expecting to interview Jessica Hollinger Vinson sometime next week (week of October 26).

As for the rest of the research period, Grace plans to do research into the history of time banks on other college campuses and see what made them successful or unsuccessful. She then plans to do a survey at BMC to find out if there is interest in the possibility of a time bank at BMC and if people believe it would work within connotations of the BMC Honor Code. The BMC Honor Code is a set of guidelines by which the students at BMC live by. It gives students the opportunity to take self-scheduled exams, govern their own student body and school, and it allows a system of trust between faculty and students. Grace is very interested in seeing if a time bank would fit with the Honor Code or if it would open up the opportunity for violations of the Honor Code. Grace plans to umbrella the idea of a time bank under the Honor Code.

Though Hannah’s and Grace’s topics differ in content they both fall under the idea of the BMC Honor Code and how important it is at Bryn Mawr. In their presentation they will use the Honor Code to connect their topics. They are both very excited to see where this project leads them.



Anne Dalke's picture

Grace and Hannah—
I know that the two of you were stretching to find some sense of common ground, and I’m really liking where you’ve moved! I can see all sorts of possibilities, too, for further intersections….

Hannah, in a mid-semester evaluation posted last night, one of our 360ers developed a distinction between zones of “safety” and those of “comfort,” which might be of use to you. She wrote,

We need to work on making more safe spaces in class….safe spaces but not comfort spaces. A comfort space is where people do not want to stretch their thinking past what they already know and their opinions, and is a place where dissenting voices are silenced. Safe spaces are where people lean into discomfort, and feel safe enough to speak up even if their idea may not be something everyone agrees with. I think that we are stuck in a comfort space right now, because many of us came to this 360 with similar ideas, or have become stuck in a groove of similar ideas.

I’d also nudge you, before you begin digging into archival research about the origins of the honor code @ Bryn Mawr to step back a bit and learn about the history of college honor codes more generally. Anthony Appiah, a philosopher whom I heard speak @ BMC  a few years ago, wrote an interesting book called “The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen”:

I saw a review that begins by asking whether “honor” is “obsolete”:

Along these lines, you may also be aware of (and if not, might be very interested in learning about!) the current rather heated debate about college honor codes: places like UVA which have always had it are grappling with reforming it:

The argument here is that “the current system doesn't represent the values of today's students; it represents the values of yesterday's students with money”: in other words, it presumes a homogenous student body, rather than a diverse one.

At the same time, other universities that never had a honor code are now instituting it, as Harvard did last year:

All of which is to say: don’t start with the presumption that the honor code is fixed, or unilaterally good; take some time to interrogate that as your framework. Once you have a better sense of what such a structure can accomplish, then I think your plan for a series of interviews with faculty, staff and students who are involved in the honor board, along with those who are focused on questions of diversity on campus, is a great idea. Jody and I are teaching one of the student members, Meera Jayaraman, in our 360 this fall, and would be happy to introduce eyou to one another.

Given the pressure that diversity puts on honor codes, I’m struck by this intersection with Grace’s observation that “time banks are often very useful for those who are unable to earn enough money to afford such services elsewise.” So the question of whether a time bank might be more responsive to diversity than an honor code might be is of interest to me. And I’m liking it that Grace plans to learn about the history of time banks writ large while delving into the local issues.

What I’m also liking a lot in Grace’s project is its activist dimension: her wanting to find out if there is interest in the possibility of a time bank at BMC. Once you’ve done some research about what’s happened along these lines in the past, I’ll look forward to brainstorming with you how to set up that survey, who shuld be its target, how best to reach out to them, etc.

jccohen's picture

Hannah and Grace,

First, apologies for coming late to this project, somehow this one had slipped my notice.  But now that I'm here, I'm finding both your distinct investigations and the intersections between these quite intriguing.  I like Anne's suggestion about interrogating the honor code, not just ours but the notion itself, and see this as interesting in relation to both projects.

In terms of safe houses/contact zones, where do affinity groups come into this?  Might be interesting to interview one or several folks who are involved about this.  Also, I suggest Dean Heyduk as someone to talk with about the honor code as idea, and how the idea has played out at Bryn Mawr (and I know he's had close contact with a few other schools with honor codes over the years). 

In terms of the time bank idea, when you're ready to think about surveying Bryn Mawr students, you'll consider what kind of sample you want to target, what you want to know, and how best to get at these questions.  Dave Consiglio in the library might be a helpful person to consult about this.

I'm excited to see where this project goes!